Ah February . . . . it’s full of cold, rain, snow, and various other things many people find unpleasant (though I’m a big fan of rain), but there’s a bright spot: a couple of Pagan festivals in the middle and at the end of the month! Even better, there’s another one in March! Yay. From now until March 20 my living room will be a giant mess of travel bags and charging cords and I love it!
Most of the major festivals all have Facebook groups where first-timers invariably ask “What should I bring and what should I expect?” I’m here to answer those questions, and as a long time indoor festival attendee I like to think I know what I’m talking about.
THE CARE & KEEPING OF YOU
If you keep up with indoor festivals you are probably familiar with the term con-crud. Con-crud is a cold and flu like illness that many people get immediately after attending a festival. Luckily, I’ve mostly learned to avoid it the last few years, and I tend to do two festivals in eleven days! (Which means I sleep at home just two days out of eleven.)
Sleep This sounds really stupid, but people often forget to sleep at festivals. It’s not just that there’s so much to do at an event like PantheaCon, ConVocation, or Paganicon, it’s also all the energy that’s floating around. It’s like being in a super-charged ritual circle for four straight days (not to mention the drunk people running down the hallway outside your hotel room at 4 in the morning), so sleeping can be difficult, but it must be done! Give yourself at least six hours of sleep a night, I’m a fan of eight myself. If you are a light sleeper, earplugs are a good idea. Hotels can be loud.
Wet Towels Are Your Friend Hotel air is dry and mostly awful, but there’s a way around that: a wet towel. When I’m in Detroit I always throw a damp towel on my hotel room’s heater to get a little moisture in the air. I swear by this trick. If the weather is pleasant (such as in San Jose) just keeping a window open is useful too.
Eat & Drink Water I don’t generally eat breakfast and if I’m busy during the day there’s a good chance I’m going to skip lunch and/or dinner too, but this is not a good thing. If you are at a festival you should try and eat like a normal person, and throw some extra fruit in there too. If eating like a normal person is not possible, bring some snacks and munch on them when you get a free minute or five.
My wife likes to remind me that “cider is not water” and while Scotch whisky is the “water of life” it’s not really a substitute for regular water. Most hotels have water available nearly everywhere, so walk around with a mug that has a lid and take advantage of it. Hotel water out of the bathroom tap is not generally very good, but I try to avoid bottled water as much as I can. I do sometimes bring a few gallon containers of water with me to keep in my room, it’s still a bit of waste, but a lot less than bringing 24 plastic bottles.
Some folks swear by packing a first aid bag when they hit the festival circuit, it’s not something I bother with myself, but I am sure to bring plenty of aspirin and decongestant, not to mention pills for mild tummy problems. Our pill box always contains things for heartburn, diarrhea, pain, and stuffy noses. Don’t leave home without these things!
If you are visiting a festival near your house, bring your own coffee maker. Hotel coffee makers usually are only good for one or two cups. I need a pot of coffee just to get to even in the morning. For those of us who like our caffeine, don’t forget the Redbull or Five Hour Energy.
LEARN STUFF & DO STUFF
At indoor gatherings people go to workshops, and you should too. I know a lot of people who take notes during those classes, so if you are one of those folks don’t forget a pen and some paper. I don’t think most teachers like their classes recorded, if that’s something you are interested in ask permission first. And for the love of the gods, put your cellphone away and make sure it’s silent.
While at a festival try to do something outside of your comfort zone. Go to a ritual in a tradition outside of your own, or take a class from a teacher you’ve never seen before. Should you always go to my stuff? Yes, but after that try the whole smorgasbord. Many years ago I went to one of T Thorn Coyle’s rituals and it was absolutely amazing. Feri-inspired rituals aren’t generally my thing, but I was really grateful to have had the experience.
The best part of a festival is usually the stuff that happens outside of workshops and ritual space, and I’m not just talking parties. Talking to people is my absolute favorite thing to do while on the road. I love talking about Paganism and Witchcraft, and I love the crazy conversations that sometimes just unfold randomly at the hotel bar. Most people want you in their conversations too. I’ll talk to just about anyone as long as they aren’t a know-it-all dick.
One of the most amazing spots at any festival is the vendor room, so try and set aside some money for that if possible. Gods do I love vendor rooms, and I get into so much trouble in them because I spend way too much money, but I don’t feel bad about it because we need to support our artisans. The same goes for authors and musicians, especially authors and musicians. At a lot of festivals those folks are there on their own dime, and workshops and rituals are work for the presenters. If you enjoyed what they had to say (or sing!) buy a book or a CD if you can.
In the age of Square it’s easier than ever to pay at most spots with a card, but a lot of people (especially authors and musicians) really love cash. So plan to have some cash on hand while festivaling, and even better try to keep a couple of bills around that aren’t twenties. Cash is also good to have on hand because you’ll want to tip your housekeeper. Leave a five-spot on the counter and you’ll be treated like royalty for the rest of your stay (and those folks work a hard job and totally deserve it!)
There are so few spaces where we get to be 100% Pagan, and festivals are one of those spots. A lot of people take advantage of that by dressing up in their Witchy-best the entire time, and it’s certainly something I’m guilty of. Shine like the star you are! If you want to wear a tail, wear a tail, no one is judging at the Pagan festival. Be comfortable and be you!
Speaking of fabulous, many of us enjoy a fabulous drink in the evening, so be sure to stock up your liquor cabinet. If you aren’t flying out to a festival, bring a cooler and stuff it full of beer or whatever. It’s a lot cheaper than sitting at the hotel bar all day. And if you are drinking, don’t walk around with a glass bottle, put your beverage in a travel mug. (I really do recommend two travel mugs.) If you like to entertain folks, bring your bar setup and some extra glasses.
Pagans like to have sex, and the smart ones do it safely and responsibly, and it goes without saying that consent on both sides is an absolute necessity. Bring some condoms with you to the festival, just in case. Seriously, I’m not joking about this.
If you’ve got business cards, bring some of those too! It’s a good way to pass along information if you meet someone you want to stay in touch with.
Most importantly try and keep a fabulous attitude! Don’t go looking for outrages and if you find yourself not feeling social spend some time away from folks. We can’t all be happy all of the time, and there’s no crime in that, know when to get away. (This is something I have to do myself.) Like attracts like, so be the type of person you’d want to hang out with.